Who doesn't love a potluck meal? They're almost like Christmas because you never know what you're going to unwrap — what delicious dishes are waiting beneath pan covers and foil-wrapped casseroles. For the host or hostess, they're trouble-free, and for the guests, it's a chance to show off their favorite dishes while tasting other dishes that may be new to them. It's a win-win on both fronts.
Not too long ago I had a small covered-dish gathering for friends from my Girls Preparatory School class of 1976 — the food was out-of-this-world good. One dish that really stood out was Stewart Spencer Vine's rice salad.
Rice salads are ideal for groups. They are filling, yet light and full of interesting textures and flavors that run from tender to crunchy and savory to sweet.
At this time of year, with football gatherings, autumn church dinners and other types of get-togethers, rice salads are a casual side dish that's easy to make. And if there are any leftovers, they're the kind of side dish that turns into an entree with the addition of a little chicken. They're one of those dishes that make you fall to your knees in gratitude when you find them in your refrigerator after a long day at work.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.
It's hard for me to stop singing their praises. They're satisfying without being weighed down with lots of fat. In most cases, a couple of tablespoons of olive oil are all that's needed. They are almost infinitely flexible and, given a little thought, I'm pretty sure you can make something delicious from whatever ingredients you have on hand right now.
The most important detail when making a rice salad is how you cook the rice. You want to get rid of as much of the free starch as possible so the grains are light and separate, not gummy and clumped together. If you're not an expert at cooking rice, follow the directions on the bag. Just be sure to add the correct amount of water — don't overdo it. Once the water is simmering, add the rice, cover, set your timer and don't peek until the rice is done. If the recipe calls for a boxed rice mix, all the better. Rice mixes are virtually fool-proof.
While the rice is still slightly warm, season it if your recipe calls for seasonings, including salt and pepper. Once the grains are cold, they won't absorb flavor as readily. Vine's recipe doesn't call for seasonings because, she says, the dressing has all the seasoning you'll most likely want.
Vines says she rarely uses recipes exactly as they are written, so she makes sure she keeps on hand a list of ingredients she likes to use in her rice salad.
"I tend to feed crowds, so following recipes takes too much time," she admits. "No two batches of this salad are ever alike."
But as you'll discover when you make it, all batches will be delicious.
Stewart Spencer Vine's Rice Salad
Wild rice or a mixture or brown and wild rices (cooked according to package directions, making about 4 cups cooked rice)
Green onions, chopped
Dried apricots, chopped
Newman's Own Olive Oil Salad Dressing
Combine all ingredients, using enough salad dressing to bind the salad; chill. Best made a day ahead of time. Allow rice salad to come to room temperature before serving, and you may want to add another tablespoon of salad dressing to "bring it back to life."
In the past few years, the number of companies offering home-delivered meals — those that come with all the ingredients needed for you to make at home — have increased tenfold. The latest to come to our doors in Chattanooga is Gobble, and what the company has done to make things different from others is to offer meals that can be made and on the table in 15 minutes using one pan and taking just three easy steps from start to finish. What a godsend for those of us who come home and need to feed a family in a hurry. Forget fast food. This is even faster because it's brought to your door. You don't have to go out of your way and stop to pick up dinner on the way home or run into the grocery store.
Since shipping the first meals in the San Francisco Bay area in 2014, Gobble became a favorite among busy families on the West Coast. Given its early success, Gobble recently expanded nationally, appearing in the Scenic City just a few weeks ago.
So far, I've made the brown-sugar-crusted salmon served over couscous, avocado and cherry tomato/cucumber vinaigrette salad; a vegetarian dinner of corn and tomato risotto; and the delectable Country Captain Chicken Curry. All, as promised, were plated in 15 minutes. The risotto dinner took even less time and had my table looking like I'd employed a gourmet chef to make dinner. Newcomers get $30 off the first week of meals. Log onto www.gobble.com for more information and a look at the menus.
After a three-year hiatus, the Pillsbury Bake-Off will return in 2018, and while the location for the biggest, oldest bake-off in U.S. history has not been announced, the company has named that it's time to enter.
Share your best recipes — and the stories behind them — in four categories: breakfast, appetizer, dinner and dessert. A bake-off-approved product must be used in each recipe.
The grand-prize winner will receive a kitchen makeover from GE Appliances, $50,000 in cash and appear on an episode of "The Kitchen," as well as in Food Network Magazine.
For a complete list of approved products, as well as more information on how and where to enter, log onto www.pillsbury.com/bake-off-contest.
Contact Anne Braly at firstname.lastname@example.org.